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Plans for a revitalised Stockton town centre unveiled

Artist's impression of the plans for Stockton Town Centre. Credit: Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council

Plans to tear down two buildings as part of a bid to give Stockton's town centre a "once in a generation" boost have been unveiled.

The Castlegate Shopping Centre and Swallow Hotel are both set to be demolished as part of "bold" from the borough council which aim to tackle the issue of empty shops and open up the town to the river.

These buildings were bought by the authority in September before people were asked their views through a public consultation, which attracted close to 1,000 responses.

Councillor Nigel Cooke, the cabinet member for regeneration and housing:

We had a massive response to our consultation on the next steps for Stockton town centre and I’d like to thank everybody who shared their views.

It’s obvious people care very deeply about the town.

– Nigel Cooke, Stokton-on-Tees Borough Council
Artist's impression of the plans for Stockton Town Centre. Credit: Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council
Artist's impression of the plans for Stockton Town Centre. Credit: Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council

Under the plans these two buildings - which occupy a site around three times the size of Trafalgar Square – will make way for a riverside park and offices.

The riverside park will feature public artwork and green spaces.

A “land bridge” structure will enable the park to span a section of Riverside Road, providing uninterrupted access to the waterfront.

The Council is also proposing to build a new central library, customer service centre and council office on the site with the aim of kick-starting its regeneration and saving money as part of plans to consolidate its 10 existing council offices into two.

The town’s main retail offer will be focussed on Wellington Square and other parts of the High Street and town centre, such as Silver Street.

Mr Cook said:

What the consultation has shown is strong public support for demolishing Castlegate and the Swallow Hotel, concentrating shops at Wellington Square and making the most of the town’s riverside setting,” said Councillor Cooke.

I think people are starting to realise that high streets have changed forever and the days of them being lined with big name shops are over. We’ve seen it in Stockton with the likes of M&S, Debenhams and H&M all going.

But it’s all about how we respond.

We all enjoy reminiscing about the golden era when every town had a big department store but we can’t turn back the clock. We need to take the bull by the horns and get on with reshaping Stockton for the modern age.

If we do nothing we’ll just see a growing number of empty shops.

This plan will shrink the town’s oversupply of retail space, bringing it more into line with demand, which will actually boost the prospects of larger units like the former M&S, New Look and Debenhams being reoccupied.

It will also open up the town to face the river as you see in modern towns and cities across Europe. Stockton has been accused of turning its back on the river over the years.

It’s the logical thing to do.

– Nigel Cook, Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council
Artist's impression of the plans for Stockton Town Centre. Credit: Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council

Under the plans shops which are in Castlegate will be given support to move elsewhere in the centre if they want to do so.

Funding for these proposals would come from £20m of Tees Valley Combined Authority funding and £21m from the Government’s £1bn Future High Streets Fund.

Tees Valley Mayor, Ben Houchen, has sent a letter to the Government giving his support to the scheme.

Mr Houchen said:

Regenerating our town centres so they are the vibrant places we all want to visit is hugely important and it is projects like this that will reinvigorate our town centres – making them fit for the 21st century.

– Ben Houchen, Tees Valley mayor

Bill Grimsey, the retail expert and author of The Grimsey Review, addd:

High streets and town centres have irrevocably changed and there’s no point clinging on to a sentimental vision of the past. We have to start planning for a bold new world.

I visit a lot of councils and as far as I’m concerned Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council is one of the best in the country at understanding you have to reinvent your towns as places for people to come for reasons other than shops.

The fact is, shopping is totally different in the 21st century and it doesn’t require the traditional high streets of the past. What we do require are town centres with things like parks and great entertainment, great attractions, health, and housing.

– Bill Grimsey, retail expert

The plans will be considered at meeting of the Council’s Cabinet on Thursday, February 20. If agreed, the decant of tenants from Castlegate would get under way with a view to starting the demolition of Castlegate and the Swallow Hotel in 2022.

The construction of the riverside park and office buildings would follow with a target completion date of 2025.